big_tiny_book_cover-175For many of us, springtime is synonymous with cleaning. The sun peeks out behind the clouds, and we notice that the windows need to be washed. Once the glass is clean, we get a better view of all the dust on our windowsills, and the scuffs of dirt on the floor. Or we go to pack up our sweaters and notice how disorganized all those closets are. For an increasing number of Americans, including Dee Williams, author of the new book The Big Tiny (Blue Rider Press, April), this time spent on home maintenance and upkeep is one great reason to make the shift to tiny living.


Dee Williams

Williams was inspired to join the ranks of the Tiny House Movement after being diagnosed with a heart condition at the age of 41. Reflecting on the amount of time and money she devoted to the upkeep of her house—a house she had loved and restored herself—she decided it was time for a change. Williams now lives in an 84-square-foot house that she built herself and can clean in its entirety in just ten minutes. How far into your spring cleaning list can you get in that time?

The book is about more than just saving time and money, but about changing the way we view our relationships to time and money and all the “stuff” we feel that we need. In the opening chapter of the book, Williams explains her old life in her three-bedroom bungalow: “The heating bill usually arrived a few days after the electric bill, which came two weeks after the mortgage and insurance were due; then the water, sewer, and trash bill would arrive every three months, and the property taxes would arrive like Satan on a stick once a year. Somewhere in the mix were my monthly credit card bills, tied to all the other necessary household items… I worked hard back then, strapped to my debt, but I was hardly miserable; I was happy enough ‘living the dream’ as I raced from one place to the next and spent the weekends cleaning the gutters or reading a how-to book on home plumbing repair.”

The Tiny House Movement is about changing all of that. According to the website The Tiny Life most Americans spend one-third to one-half of their income on housing. The total cost of owning a typical home with a purchase price of $290,000, including interest, taxes, maintenance, and major repairs is over one million dollars over thirty years. According to the website, which refers to it as a Tiny Lifestyle blog, people who live tiny have less debt and more savings than average American homeowners.


The movement has been getting a lot of attention lately, covered by local and national news outlets interested in the architecture, economics, and sustainability of tiny houses. TINY, a documentary by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith that profiles one couple’s attempts to build their own tiny house, as well as other families who have already successfully downsized their lives, has been making the rounds at film festivals since February.

interior_tiny_house-200For anyone interested in learning more about the movement, Williams’s book is a great place to start. Williams is honest about her experiences, describing at one point her elaborate routines for keeping warm at night as a result of her fear of leaving her portable heater on while she sleeps. The entire house is like a dry tinderbox, she explains, and she has visions of it going up in interior_tiny_house_2-175flames while she sleeps. “If I had been perfectly honest,” she writes, “I would have admitted that I’m happy only 85 percent of the time, roughly 300 days out of the year. The other days, I wish I had running water, or that the house was warmer; or I might want a 72-inch plasma screen television and enough space to invite all my friends over to watch the Oscars. I might want a flushing toilet and an endless supply of cheap beer…I might want a lot of things…but that doesn’t mean I need them.”

As we face rising costs of living, rapidly increasing debts, and diminishing resources, this line between want and need is something that all Americans—whether they are interested in the Tiny House Movement or not—must begin to explore.


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